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Huntington’s and mental health: understanding emotional and cognitive symptoms

Huntington’s and mental health: understanding emotional and cognitive symptoms

Changes in behaviour, emotions and thinking in people with Huntington’s can seem like a mask covering up the individual underneath. 

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Hugh Rickards explains some of the emotional and cognitive symptoms of Huntington’s and how they affect mental health.

1)      Getting overloaded
Sometimes people with Huntington’s find it difficult to multi-task so they may find some situations, including social gatherings and some types of work, difficult to cope with.

2)      Understanding what’s going on  
Some people with Huntington’s can find it difficult to pick up what’s going on in social situations and this can result in them appearing rude or uncaring.

3)      Grumpiness
People with Huntington’s can have short fuses. This is usually because they’re feeling anxious about dealing with situations, especially if there’s a change in the plan or too much happening.

4)      Difficulty with getting started
Sometimes people with Huntington’s may not get started with activities. This may be because they have difficulty in imagining things to do, or in getting going.

5)      Being content
Quite a lot of people with Huntington’s can be mentally content throughout the illness, even if they don’t appear to be doing much. They may well be quite happy living in a world with less going on.

6)      Anxiety
People with Huntington’s can often get anxious at all different stages of the disease.  In the early stages, people commonly worry about the future and in the later stages anxiety often comes with overload or changes in routine.

7)      Getting a bee in your bonnet
It’s really common for people with HD to keep thinking about something long after everyone else has moved on. 

8)      Depression
Depression is more than just being sad. The main thing to watch out for is if you don’t get any pleasure in everyday things (like a cup of tea or your favourite TV programme) and this is there almost all the time for a few weeks.

9)      Physical problems can lead to behaviour changes
If there’s a change in your state of mind or behaviour, it’s important to make sure there are no other physical triggers, like infections, pain, or constipation. 

10)   Treatments really help
With a proper assessment, many mental and behaviour changes in Huntington’s disease can be managed really well. This might include medicines, changes in the environment or with talking treatments. 

11)      Wait during conversations
People with Huntington’s can have difficulty processing stuff so you may need to wait after you’ve said something before rushing in to say the next thing. They may not be able to get a word in edgeways if you don’t slow down a bit.

12)      It’s not always about Huntington’s disease  
All of us have changes in the way we feel and behave all the time; it’s a normal part of life.  Don’t assume that changes in a person with Huntington’s are caused by the HD – they might just be fed up with a bunch of the sorts of non-HD things that affect us all!

Information courtesy of HDA UK.